A Doctor of Nursing Practice's (DNP's) role in healthcare throughout the United States is significant and in demand, as evidenced by the increase in DNP programs over the past 15 years and the projected job growth of more than 40% over the next 10.
For those interested in benefitting from this, we've compiled everything you need to know about DNP programs and ranked the 10 most affordable.
Table of Contents
What Is a DNP?
A DNP is a terminal degree for nurses and an excellent option for those who want to be nurse leaders and influence healthcare delivery. This degree also focuses heavily on implementing evidence-based research into daily practice, positively impacting patient outcomes and setting it apart from a Ph.D.
DNPs typically work in three different settings: leadership, education, or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).
If leadership is the selected path, this is often at a higher level, such as a CNO of a hospital. In education, the DNP may teach all levels of nursing, ranging from adjunct to the dean of a nursing program. Regarding their role as an APRN, they may work as a nurse practitioner in several specialties, including family medicine, pediatrics, and acute care, or as certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), delivering anesthesia to patients before and after surgery. The APRN may work in the inpatient or clinic setting, granting them flexibility based on their specialty.
DNP Prerequisites and Requirements
Nurses must complete prerequisites and requirements before attending a DNP program. These include required degrees, years of experience as a registered nurse (RN), an active RN license, and completing classes needed before admission to the DNP program.
To apply to most DNP programs, you must have your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and have passed the NCLEX. Most DNP programs also require at least one year of experience as an RN before applying.
Additionally, there are often requirements such as a minimum GPA from previous nursing programs. Some programs also require the GRE, and it is not uncommon for online programs to have specific guidelines regarding state licensure.
Related: 10 Best DNP Programs in 2023
Pathways and Curriculum
There are two pathways to becoming a DNP— completing a BSN to DNP program or an MSN to DNP program. The average time for a BSN to DNP program is three to four years compared to the average length of the MSN to DNP program of two years.
Nurses must also decide which specialty to pursue in their DNP programs. Here are some examples of the concentrations:
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
- Acute Care Adult Nurse Practitioner
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
- Pediatric Primary Care
- Nurse Anesthetist
- Nurse Midwife
- Nurse Educator
- Nursing Administration
- Nurse Informatics
The DNP curriculum is determined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's (AACN) eight essential competencies. The guidelines set forth by the AACN require a minimum of 1,000 clinical practice hours and completion of the DNP scholarly project.
Cheapest DNP Programs in 2023
The following schools have been selected based on allnurses' methodology of surveying our readers to understand what they value most while selecting schools with the addition of graduation rates, student-faculty ratio, price, mode, duration, and admission rates of hundreds of the most prominent nursing schools in the United States.
Located in Mobile, Alabama, The University of South Alabama's program goal is to prepare nurses for an advanced role in nursing that can help meet the healthcare needs of communities, implement research into evidence-based practice, influence healthcare policy, fill leadership roles, and educate future nurses at all levels.
- $505 per credit hour
- Offers 15 different specialty certification programs and eight sub-specialties
- Online DNP program
Rasmussen University has multiple campuses throughout Florida. They offer financial aid and scholarship opportunities to make the DNP program more affordable.
- $695 cost per credit
- Two Specialties: Executive Leadership and Public Health and Policy
- Estimated 21 months as a full-time student (48 credits)
- Online DNP program
Purdue University Global is an accredited online DNP program through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). With multiple start dates throughout the year, they have full-time and part-time plans.
- $700 per credit
- Duration of 18 months as a full-time student
- Expect to spend 15 to 18 hours per week on coursework
The DNP program at National University College in California offers continuous enrollment with new classes starting weekly. Financial aid and scholarships are available to help compensate for the costs of degree advancement.
- $442 cost pe quarter unit
- Three Specialties: Executive Leadership and Nurse Anesthesia Practice
- The Executive Leadership DNP program is 30 months, and the Nurse Anesthesia DNP program is 36 months
Located in Phoenix, Arizona, Grand Canyon University's DNP program holds CCNE accreditation. This program will prepare nurses to be leaders in their field, implementing research into daily practice to impact the healthcare system and patient care.
- $687.50 per credit
- 39 credit hours
- Hybrid program—courses offered online and in-person (evenings only)
Graduates at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio prepare to be nurse leaders, leaving a lasting impact on the healthcare system and healthcare delivery. The requirements for the program include experience working as an RN before admission.
- $836 per credit
- Programs are primarily online, except for the Nurse Anesthesia DNP program, which is on campus
- Nine DNP specialties and one MSN-DNP program
University of Phoenix Arizona's DNP program supports working nurses with strong leadership skills to pursue advanced degrees. The program offers multiple start dates to provide greater flexibility in your personal and professional schedules.
- $810 per credit
- Online classes
- Approximately 20 months
Located in Baltimore, University of Maryland graduates are prepared to implement research and evidence-based medicine into daily practice to positively impact patient outcomes and the healthcare system. The program offers full-time and part-time study plans, except for the nurse anesthesia program.
- $26,820 for DNP Residents
- 8 DNP specialties and an MSN-DNP program
- Hybrid Format
Located in New Jersey, Rutgers University graduates prepare to leave a lasting impact on the healthcare industry by reviewing and shaping healthcare policy and implementing projects to improve policy and healthcare delivery.
- $882 per credit
- 12 BSN to DNP programs; 2 MSN to DNP programs
- The post-baccalaureate programs will take between 3 to 5 years based on the specialty selected
Available for working nurses who wish to advance their leadership skills, the University of Pittsburgh's neonatal, health systems executive leadership, and nurse anesthesia (BSN to DNP) programs require experience before admission.
- $1,003 per credit
- 7 DNP specialty programs offered
- All programs are online except the nurse midwife program, which is an onsite program
Salary Expectations of a DNP in 2023
Multiple factors influence salary expectations for the DNP-prepared nurse. These include experience, location, part-time vs. full-time, and specialty. The U.S. Bureau of Statistics provides May 2022 average salaries for the DNP specialties:
- Nurse Anesthetist: $203,090
- Nurse Practitioner: $121,610
- Nurse Midwife: $120,880
- Nurse Leadership: $104,830
- Nurse Educator: $75,470
FAQ and Additional Readings
Q: Can I work while completing my DNP degree?
A: The coursework is rigorous but designed to allow students to work in their current roles. Most programs now offer online or hybrid formats, allowing for greater flexibility in personal and professional life.
Q: Are there financial aid opportunities to help cover the cost of the program?
A: The answer will vary from program to program, but most schools offer graduate students some form of financial aid. Another source of financial assistance includes the organization you are working for. Many healthcare companies provide a specific amount yearly, especially if you commit to working for the organization after graduation.
Q: How will my DNP benefit me and my career?
A: DNPs implement research through various projects and practices to improve the healthcare system, influence policy, and impact patient care. They can achieve this through practice as an APRN, a nurse leader, or a nurse educator. This process will benefit you through higher salaries, career opportunities, and even more significant achievements.
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